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The skinny on the straw ban

Fort Myers Beach businesses adjust to new ordinance

February 7, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After the Fort Myers Beach Town Council passed its ordinance banning plastic straws on the beach, the island was given 90 days to come into compliance.

Restaurants and bars were allowed to use up the last of their inventory - and some of them have spent the past few months experimenting to find out what alternative will work best.

The Outrigger Resort had decided, it won't give out straws.

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Fish-Tale Marina Waterfront Dining started using these nautical paper straws when it opened in December.

It'll sell them.

"We tried paper straws about 10 years ago, and people didn't like them," said general manager Jeanne Bigos.

Instead, the hotel is getting a shipment of reusable metal straws. Customers of the tiki bar, cafe or Charley's Boathouse can opt to not use a straw or purchase a metal one for $2.50 - and then it's theirs to take home or use at their next stop, Bigos said.

"We just won't be putting in a straw... if they insist they have a straw, they can buy and and they get to take it with them if they want," Bigos said.

Bigos said The Outrigger has been fully supportive of the straw ban. When talks for the ban first started about eight months ago, she printed out fliers to inform their guests about the town's discussions.

"I walk every day from the beach to the bar and I pick up straws," she said. "It annoys me that people don't pick up their trash. Personally, I'm glad the town made the decision. It's great for the beach, great for the environment."

Bigos said her bartenders were initially adamant that customers want straws; however, a couple weeks ago her staff halted giving out straws to start getting used to it and she hasn't gotten many complaints so far.

The Lani Kai is also working out the kinks with the plastic straw ban.

While paper straws work sufficiently for most drinks, the Lani Kai's signature rumrunners and other specials come with an extra shot of liquor that was usually poured into the straw. Unfortunately, the straws can't hold up under the pressure of a 151 shot.

The resort was one of the first on the island to start using biodegradable straws several years ago, but Marketing Director Melissa Schneider said the establishment was more than happy to follow the ordinance and protect the environment. The resort even made sure to get paper drink stirrers, she said.

The paper straws last around two hours when submerged in liquid before they begin to disintegrate. The Lani Kai does sand sweeps every morning to pick up trash and debris, but white paper straws blend in compared to the bright green biodegradable ones it supplied before.

"The white straws are hard to find in the sand," Schneider said.

Environmental technician Rae Burns said everyone had until Feb. 4 to get into compliance - restaurants, convenient stores, grocery stores and individuals alike.

Burns said she'd gotten a few complaints so far: some businesses don't like that paper straws are more flimsy, and one member of the public told her it was a "silly ordinance."

"We've been doing outreach," she said. "We will be starting inspections to get compliance."

The ban on distribution applies to the entire island, not just businesses. Violation penalties are $100 for the first offense; $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third.

But if the code enforcement team (Beach and Street Enforcement) finds someone on the beach using a straw, Burns said the first reaction won't be to slap them with a fine. Rather, the town will start with an educational message, explaining the straw ban and why it was enacted as a measure by the town to help protect the environment.

"This is not a 'do what we say' thing, it's very much an education and compliance with the businesses," Burns said.



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